Over the past couple of days, I have been thinking about not only identification with a (fictional) character, but identifying with that character's emotions, too.
I have recently finished two books - True Grit, and Room - and these have both had a smiliar effect on me in that while I found it easy to identify with the narrator, I found it very hard to connect with the story emotionally.
True Grit is written from the POV of a 14-year-old girl. It is a harrowing tale of her mission to avenge the murder of her father. She endures danger, physical suffering and deprivation, and yet because she is so heroic - so brave - and her story told with so little overt emotion, I found it very hard to engage with the fear and pain she must have felt. I enjoyed the book, but it didn't draw me in the way many other novels do. The same with Room. It is a very cleverly-written account of the ordeal of the little boy and his mother, imprisoned in the Room of the title, yet because the boy doesn't realise the seriousness of his situation, I didn't feel any of the emotional tension I might have expected to feel. When I'm reading a novel, I need to feel emotions with the central characters or their situation, but in these two cases I didn't, and both left me feeling strangely unsatisfied.
Is it necessary to spell out emotions in novels? I don't know. Like everything else, it's so subjective. But speaking for myself, I need to feel what the protagonist is feeling, or at least get a feel for the tension, the emotional journey, or whatever, otherwise the story hasn't truly gripped me. In both these novels, I wanted to know what happened, but in a detached and interested rather than emotional way.